The Carter campaign created the "misery index," a combination of the unemployment rate and inflation. Carter used this number against Ford to great success. In 1976, the misery index was 13.6.
Energy was a key issue of the day. Carter called the energy crisis the "moral equivalent of war," while encouraging Americans to put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat. Carter and Congress created subsidies for solar and wind power, despite those sources being dangerous and unreliable.
Carter, ever the human rights activist, avoided any strident criticism of China or the U.S.S.R. Carter filled his cabinet with Wall Street lawyers, university professors, and civil rights workers - all inexperienced in foreign policy; a lack of experience shared by Carter. Carter deliberately put America in a position of weakness through several ill-advised actions:
Return of control of the Panama Canal zone to Panama.
Denouncing of friendly governments in Central America, leading to a communist coup in Nicaragua.
Bribing of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin with a $5 billion foreign aid package to seal the deal on the Camp David Peace Accords. Sadat and Begin shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic fundamentalists in his own army.
Cancellation of the B-1 bomber and the ABM; delayed deployment of the MX missile.
So what, you may say. Let me remind you who are too young to remember. Back then, the U.S.S.R. was giant machine designed for one purpose: To crush humanity. They saw Carter's weakness, and moved to exploit it. They developed new ICBMs with massive single warheads designed to be used as a first-strike offensive weapon (language used by the Soviets themselves), capable of destroying our missiles before they even left their silos. We would be wide open to a full-scale invasion, a la Red Dawn. They were ready to fight and win a shooting war with the United States.
Then came the Islamic Revolution which overthrew the Shah in Iran. Carter failed to close our embassy and withdraw our personnel. Islamic fundamentalists took over our embassy and held our people hostage. Carter sat on his hands.
The U.S.S.R. launched a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan.
Polish labor unions went on strike against the Soviet-backed communist government, which distracted the leadership of the U.S.S.R. Carter failed to take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen the U.S. position by embracing the revolt against communism.
Carter, nearing he end of his term, launched an ill-fated rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran. An accident during an aircraft refueling killed several U.S. personnel, whose bodies were mutilated and paraded about by cheering Iranians.
In 1980, after four years of Carter, the misery index was 22.
Carter went on to lose the presidential election in 1980, conceding the race to Ronald Reagan before the polls closed. Reagan won, 489 to 49.